When I gave up my job to become an expat spouse, I worried that I’d undermined the feminist cause. I’ve revisited this decision while writing my book series, because my protagonist, Tara Scott, struggles with the same dilemma. She wonders, “Have I betrayed feminist ideals? All those years, women fought for equal rights, and I just threw mine away. But no, isn’t feminism about choice, not judgment? I could have refused to come, but I wanted to experience a new culture. And to give Karl his big break. Not to mention the travel.”
The key word here is choice. In my case, Barto and I made a joint decision. I wasn’t coerced. He didn’t pressure me. We sat together and weighed the pros and cons for our family and agreed that the opportunity to experience Nigerian culture under the protection of a global company was too exciting to pass up. As discussed in Sunrise Court, it was a tough call, but looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. It gave me the opportunity to create a new career as a writer, which, though far from lucrative, has offered substantial personal growth and a wealth of blog-worthy experience.
I was gratified to find my views validated by Melbourne University’s senior lecturer, Dr Lauren Rosewarne in an article Sparkle of Markle by Meg Crawford in The Weekly Review (March 28, 2018). In response to claims that Markle can no longer call herself a feminist because she is giving up her acting job on “Suits” to marry Prince Harry, Dr Rosewarne says, “Feminism exists to support women in all of their choices. That choice might be to have a career, it might be to stay home and raise children, it might be to do both, but feminists have fought really, really hard for a really long time to give women the opportunity to make their own choices regarding their bodies.” Hear, hear!
I am a “Suits” fan, so I’m disappointed that Markle is leaving the series, but I also appreciate her choice to resign from her job and leave her home country for love. A massive decision—whatever your opinion about the wealth and privilege of the British royal family, being a member of “the Firm” is not a walk in the park. She is signing up for a lifetime of scrutiny. Every move and every outfit will be judged as she assumes her roles as a social advocate for special causes.
I remained a trailing spouse for 13 years. Every time we moved countries, Barto and I assessed the potential impact on each family member before we made our call. Every time, we went where the company needed us. Until our most recent move. On this occasion, we put our children first. For health and schooling reasons, the boys and I returned home to Melbourne, while Barto finished his project in Qatar.
Choices. Barto and I always agreed we’d never do married unaccompanied (where the working spouse moves alone to a different location). We always wondered why contemporaries made this decision. Yet here we were, separated by 12,000 km and a seven-hour time difference. It was a lesson in never say never, and reinforced the reasons why we shouldn’t judge others. But it also showed me that I am still capable of standing on my own two feet. Being a trailing spouse didn’t turn me in into a weak, dependent soul; it taught me resilience and adaptability.
We lived apart for six months. Then Barto moved home to be with us, even though he didn’t have a specific job to return to. The risk paid off and he’s now in a great role, but it demonstrated that he too, made compromises for love. Equality. And equality is the foundation of feminism.
Next time, Susan Bradfield: From Physiotherapist to Photographer
Next expat blog: Career and the Expat Spouse